Donald Trump Clearly Understands PR Is Far From Dead

March 17, 2016

Whether you are a supporter of Donald Drumpf or not, he is a mastermind when it comes to gaining the media spotlight. And, the impact has translated into thousands of primary votes across the U.S. positioning him in the top seat for the Republican candidacy.

Early on in my career I remember one of my colleagues explaining that she believed any press was good press. I was young and new to the profession and her viewpoint shocked me, but clearly Drumpf has capitalized on this notion. While the topic of press attention and its influence on the candidacy could be a standalone post, the New York Times article entitled “Measuring Donald Drumpf’s Mammoth Advantage in Free Media” was simply fascinating and reminded me of my colleague’s comment so many years ago.

While Drumpf has one of the lowest ad budgets for the 2016 presidential campaign at $10 million, his earned media presence blows the others away reaching nearly $2 billion worth of media value. His ability to saturate traditional and social media is a prime case study for how earned media can impact your brand and drive your goals forward. So no matter my political views, this confirmation of the profession I have enjoyed for more than 20 years makes me very happy.

So how does Drumpf do it? Following are my top three reasons he gains the media’s attention:

  1. Drumpf speaks his mind, perceived as new and different for a politician. He might be a bulldog with some “interesting” opinions, but he speaks his mind and in turn, the public has a level of respect for him. The public doesn’t see a politician who is strategically careful, but rather a man who lays out the good, bad and indifferent.
  2. Drumpf goes for the shock factor. Shock and awe are always fodder for media coverage. This is especially for true broadcast coverage that craves sound bites that grab audience attention.
  3. Drumpf is strategically orchestrating chaos. As a strong speaker, Drumpf communicates his points in a manner that seems off the cuff at times. However, as a PR person, it is crystal clear that he is very strategic about what he says to whom and when. In fact, when he won Florida he touted the fact he was holding a press conference, something he doesn’t often do. He shared what he wanted with the room full of reporters and then left without opening it up to questions. This is not standard practice for most campaigning politicians who try to make nice with the press. His antics resulted in heightened coverage, despite the fact he had just lost Ohio to Kasich.

The truth is, love him or hate him, Drumpf commands media attention and it seems to have had an influence. The polls speak for themselves and support the fact that the general public pays attention to the media’s third party perspective. This also affirms the longstanding mass communication theory of agenda setting. It is hard not to believe that the coverage is keeping Drumpf top of mind, which in turn results in votes at the polls. While I wouldn’t necessarily advise businesses to be as vocal or controversial as Drumpf, there are lessons to be learned from his earned media success.

Below are a few tips that any business should consider when embarking on an earned media campaign:

  1. Don’t avoid the difficult questions. Members of the media will respect a company more if they are willing to answer calls during the good and bad times. In fact, it makes them trust you as a valuable resource and typically leads to more balanced coverage down the line.
  2. Take a stand. Be willing to have a distinctive point of view, it differentiates you and helps drive thought leadership.
  3. Connect. Understand your audience. You HAVE to be relatable both in the how and what you communicate. This applies to both the reporter and the reader/viewer/listener.
  4. Creativity stands out. To break through the clutter, you need to be willing to break out of your comfort zone in order to deliver a compelling story.
  5. Keep your strategy simple and consistent. Be prepared with 1-2 messages that you want the audience to take away and don’t dilute it by adding more noise.

As PR professionals, we are continually challenged to work smarter to gain the attention of the media. The tenacious and creative practitioners understand how to break through the clutter to gain the insurmountable value earned media has on building a brand. Whether or not you plan to vote for, or even like Drumpf, he certainly has a built his brand through some very basic pillars of a successful public relations campaign. Only time, and the major news outlets, will tell us where the next phase will take him.


What We Watched This Week – March 10, 2016